General Question

BhacSsylan's avatar

What's the best camera for someone who wants to take up photography as a hobby?

Asked by BhacSsylan (9527points) December 6th, 2009

So, I want to get into photography, as the question implies, and so I want to know what camera would be a good idea for me to start at. Some guidelines:

-I’m quite poor, at least for the moment, so something that isn’t ludicrously expensive would be good.
-Along the same lines, I am just starting, so a bunch of things like interchangeable lenses and generally ultra-changeable stuff just wouldn’t be useful and would probably just confuse me. I want something I can change, if I get better, but will take care of itself for the time being.
-An instant shutter. That’s one thing I need. Most digital cameras take a few seconds to snap a shot, I’ve noticed, and I like impromptu shots so I need a fast shutter speed. If this is only in film cameras, so be it, I can deal with film.

So, any ideas from the collective? If I can’t find something good enough in my price range, that’s okay too; let me know what I should look for. I can start saving, but something in the low hundreds would be best. Thanks in advance!

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29 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Any. Photography is not in the equipment, it’s all in the eye of the photographer. Forget about equipment, get any camera you can afford, and go take photos.

tyrantxseries's avatar

what’s your price range?

MissAnthrope's avatar

I disagree with pdworkin. I equate it to playing music, in that the quality of your instrument makes a huge difference in your sound. This is why pros get the more expensive equipment; there is definitely variation of quality amongst camera models. I’m a photographer and I have used a variety of cameras, and even a pro wouldn’t be able to get a clear, beautiful shot from some models.

Look at getting a Canon point-and-shoot, you may be able to get one used on eBay for less than retail (this is where I got my Canon SD100). They’re usually not too expensive and they are great quality and very sturdy, good cameras.

I’m using an SD450 right now and it has a lot of features for a little camera. There’s a wide-angle lens, the LCD screen is nice and big (about 2”), and it takes consistently good pictures. Not to mention Canon really improved shutter speed in the time between the two models and I was really happy to see the improvement. It’s usually instantaneous, the only time there’s a lag is when the flash has to be recharged for a few seconds. The only cons are that Canons tend to have a mild soft focus effect, but if you’re not a pro, you probably won’t even notice. This effect can be fixed in post-processing by using a simple sharpening script in Photoshop or Gimp. The other thing is that night photos tend to be noisy if you’re trying to take shots at night with no flash. I’ve never been able to take long-exposure photos that satisfy me, but it doesn’t much diminish my satisfaction with my camera.. after all, it’s an inexpensive little point-and-shoot and it works great for most of my needs.

Nikon was up there with consistently best cameras, but they really let quality fall to the wayside to compete in the Canon price range. So I don’t recommend a CoolPix because I think the picture quality is poor. My friend has one that takes awful photos and I would rather you save that money to put toward something better. I’m not sure what model it is, but she bought it this summer, so it’s a recent one.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@tyrantxseries I’d say below $400, if possible.

@pdworkin That’s not entirely true. Cheap cameras break, have low pixel counts on digitals, adjust for light badly so you always have washed out or over dark photos, don’t focus so everything is blurry or, as i said, take 5 seconds to snap a shot, and I have to anticipate everything, which seems very silly. I agree skill is the bigger part, but i want equipment that will do what I tell it to.

jrpowell's avatar

I would get this.

The price on Amazon is 470$. A little more then what you wanted to spend. But it is a fantastic camera.

dpworkin's avatar

@MissAnthrope and @BhacSsylan Have you ever seen what Nancy Rexroth did with a Diana ?

I stand firmly by what I said.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@pdworkin That’s fair, but keep in mind it’s a film camera. Digital is another affair (and why I said I’d be okay with film if necessary). Digitals can mess up in numerous ways, while film cameras can be very simple and still work fine. Also, Nancy Rexroth I am not.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@pdworkin – Yes, but that’s like apples and oranges. For one, you’re talking about a pro photographer, and pros can do a lot more with less because they have knowledge and experience. There’s a whole sub-culture of photographers that love working with older cameras. However, being pros, they have the tools and know-how to make it work. That sort of thing is not recommended for a beginner, unless they’re interested in vintage cameras and learning how to get great pictures using them.

@johnpowell knows what’s up. If you’re able to spend a bit more to get a Nikon SLR, it’s damn near impossible to go wrong there. In the SLR category, Nikon makes some beautiful cameras and their strong suit is in this camera category (as opposed to point-and-shoot).

dpworkin's avatar

If you can’t take a picture with a Brownie, you can’t take a picture.

jaytkay's avatar

Film gets expensive, I would go with digital.

All else being equal, I would shoot film. I have an Olympus 35mm outfit with superb lenses, and a Rollei 6×6, but the cost of film and processing keeps me shooting mostly digital.

A Nikon D40 is in your price range, here’s an enthusiastic endorsement:

MissAnthrope's avatar

You can use this site to browse different models, read in-depth reviews, compare models, see tech specs, and view sample shots. I’ve used it to purchase the last four cameras I bought and it’s very useful.

jaytkay's avatar

As MissAnthrope wrote, is an excellent site.

I always recommend these three:

Val123's avatar

I splurged and bought an Olympus 550. I waited until the price dropped from $600 to $300. When I take pics, the most frustrating thing for me was the lack of a decent zoom. You couldn’t get close enough to, say, wild animals to get a shot. The Olympus 550 has an 18X zoom. I seriously love my camera!

If you’re really, really new at taking pictures with a digital camera, I have one hint….when you see a shot, you want to be able to take it right then and there, if at all possible, before things move, or expressions change. With my old 35MM you could do just that. However, the digital cameras have this funky delay, so it’s impossible to just whip the camera up and get the shot. To compensate, you need to hold the shutter button down halfway, until the picture sets, then wait and hope what you saw will come back, or something similar will show up. As long as you have the shutter set, you can then take the picture on the instant.

Have fun!!!

BhacSsylan's avatar

@pdworkin Okay, if i admit I can’t take a picture, can we move on?

To everyone else, thanks a lot, this has given me a lot of great options.

@Val123 Yeah, i am worried about the shutter speed. Are there any cameras that have that minimally? @MissAnthrope says hers is nearly instantaneous. Since you also seem an enthusiast, have you tried it and agree? I really don’t want to have to wait an hope, if possible.

Val123's avatar

@BhacSsylan You know, I don’t know. I think that’s just the nature of digital cameras, but pre-setting the shutter really helps immensely. You might not get the exact shot you saw a second ago, but if you have your shutter preset, a new shot usually appears, and you can get it instantly.

I hate the shutter delay too, but over-all the digital cameras far outweigh the 35 MM. For one thing you can take a gazillion shots of…..junk, just hoping for something unusual! The cost of film for the 35mm, plus the expense (and wait time) of getting it developed seriously curtails one’s spontaneity.

@MissAnthrope What kind of camera do you have? About how long is the delay?

dpworkin's avatar

Yeah, I have advice. Pick up something decent enough, and then go out and look at the world through it, and practice capturing moments. The more pictures you take, and the more fine photography (from an art historical perspective) you look at, the better off you will be. Taking classes in your community can’t hurt, either.

I realized I was a mediocre photographer in 1971 when Nancy Rexroth became my girlfriend. I still have her work and mine from that period, and mine sucked, but I still take pictures every day. I enjoy film, but I am an old fart.

My son is a professional photographer, and uses film for his artwork and digital for his day job as a fashion and magazine photographer.

Your future is unlimited, in my opinion, if you concentrate on the work, and not on the technology.

Val123's avatar

What @pdworkin said….grab a camera and start looking at life through the lens….

simpleD's avatar

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, at least not right away. @pdworkin makes some good points, but you also have to be comfortable with your tools. Photography is both a process of observation, and a craft. You can be a great observer, but if you can’t communicate that with your tools, you’ll be frustrated. On the other hand, you can carry pro equipment, and if you spend more time thinking about the craft than about your vision, your images may be brilliant quality, but superficial and meaningless.

Find a well stocked local camera store staffed by people who know what they’re talking about (if such a thing still exists where you are.) Hold the cameras that fall within your price range. How’s the weight? Does it fit within your hands? Can you access the controls quickly and easily? You’ll want to be able to adjust aperture and shutter speeds without having to dig through a menu tree. Is the camera responsive? The ability of the camera to give you RAW files is crucial. Cameras that only give you jpegs have already degraded your images before you even see them.

You should be able to find something that fits you and your budget among the entry level Canon or Nikon DSLRs. Get them with the kit lenses for now. Then when you’re ready to upgrade, you can add better lenses, then possibly a second, better body.

Then remember what @pdworkin said. Shoot.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@Val123 – The one I use most is a Canon SD450. I’m not kidding when I say the shutter time is near-instantaneous, it’s pretty awesome. I was used to my SD100 when I got the SD450 and I noticed a huge difference in shutter time right away. That and the wide-angle lens had me practically bouncing around in joy. Provided I’m not using flash, I can sit there and keep pressing the shutter button and the camera is ultra-responsive. It also starts up very fast, it’s ready in no more than 2 seconds after pressing the power button, allowing you to grab it and snap quickly so you don’t miss whatever is happening.

Another thing I want to mention is that Canon customer service is stellar. The agents are polite and helpful and if there’s a problem with your camera caused by manufacturing, they will pay for shipping both ways. There was a flaw in some of the earlier Elph models that caused the LCD screen to stop working suddenly and this is how I got my SD450. I sent the SD100 in, they couldn’t fix it, so I got a brand new, better camera! You can’t beat that.

Val123's avatar

@MissAnthrope I want it!!!! I want the wide angle lens, too!! I’ll trade you my camera and one pregnant cat for your camera!

MissAnthrope's avatar

@Val123 – Hmmm… what are pregnant cats going for these days?

Val123's avatar


dpworkin's avatar

@BhacSsylan Ooops, I guess your new edit means you don’t want any advice from me. Sorry I jumped the gun.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@pdworkin No, your advice was moving on, and it’s quite helpful. I have no doubt you know what you’re talking about, especially after that, but as @simpleD said, i need to be comfortable with my equipment. I’m just starting, i try using a brownie all I’ll probably get is crap, and become frustrated and stop. This is a hobby, not a passion (yet), and I don’t, right now, have the drive to immediately jump straight in with the difficult, but more artistic, equipment. I’m looking for something that I can easily understand and will work with me to get good photos. At least right now, I don’t want to have to do everything myself, at least because I just don’t know how yet.

I understand what you mean, i know that I need to be shooting, and not necessarily thinking just about the camera, but i need to have a camera before I start. Once I have one, I can start shooting. I already have ideas, and constantly see things I want to shoot, but all I have now is my phone camera, and while I can and have taken photos with it, is very far from a good camera. That brownie camera would probably take better photos on average, especially as far as quality.

So, here’s the thing: I understand art, I draw and write and in general can be considered artistic. So I understand my creative process. I understand quite well that a master, or at least someone at home in the art can succeed beautifully with sub par equipment. Even if I hadn’t understood that, your link to Rexroth’s photos would prove that. But I am not at home in the medium, and to start, I’d like a little better tools, something that will help me along and let me get comfortable at my own pace, and be able to take decent photos along the way.

Advice is good, I’m asking for advice, and yours was very good. Any more would be appreciated. But you saying “If you can’t do this, give up”, which was the gist of your brownie comment, whether or not you meant it to be, is not helpful.

dpworkin's avatar

Oh, I never would advise giving up. I was strictly trying to emphasize my strong feeling that good pictures can be taken with ordinary cameras, and ordinary pictures are very often taken with superb cameras. Now Nancy is using an 8X10 view camera and taking self-portraits! Think of the difference! Hell if I haven’t given up, considering the crap I churn out, you certainly shouldn’t give up.

Sampson's avatar

What’d be best is entirely up to you and your personality.

My first digital camera was a fujifilm finepix z5fd which I bought about 4 years ago for around 240$. It is/was a great camera. Fujifilm has released newer finepix models since then and I’d recommend those.

You could also buy a used DSLR for a good price if you’re okay with buying used.

deni's avatar

I VOTE FILM. Film is fun. And good old film cameras on ebay are much cheaper than new digital ones. But…then you have to pay to develop, which I suppose adds up. So its up to you. Then, if you decide to go digital, my vote is with Canon all the way. Not sure about a specific model right now but Canon is the shit.

arpinum's avatar

Film will certainly teach you how to take good photos. Knowing that each click is costing you a few pennies will slow you down and make you consider your composure a bit more. $150–200 will get you a Nikon N75 with lens. get your film scanned when you develop it and you can work digitally from there. Don’t worry about large zoom lenses, learn to move your feet. Black and White can be a great tool to focus on lighting and tones.
By a Holga as well for $20. It is a great learning camera.

@pdworkin is right on top of things. It doesn’t matter how fancy the camera. Almost everything out there is better than what Ansel Adams worked with. Even a 5MP camera has plenty of resolution unless you are going to make meter sized prints. There are pros out there who use Holgas, and Chase Jarvis just published a book of photos from his iPhone. Technique first.

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